Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Uses of Prizes

Maya Jaggi defends the apparently 'non-literary' choice of pop singer Lily Allen for inclusion on the judging panel of next year's Orange Prize. Maggie Gee, chair of the Royal Society of Literature has complained about the lack of 'serious writers' on the panel, but Jaggi supports the claim made by the prize's co-founder and director Kate Mosse that the members of such a jury need to be 'readers' more than they need to be writers: people able to judge accessibility as well as excellence.

The danger with a highly literary jury, says Jaggi, is that 'experts end up only talking to each other', and 'the ultimate aim is to serve not just writers but readers.'

Well, maybe. It is after all an author's job, in my view, to reach out to readers. Just as long as Mosse's aim to 'entice as many readers as possible to sample not just the winner but the longlist' doesn't mean excellence is pushed off the agenda....
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